An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: 14th Century (page 1 of 1)

Two Medieval Fruit Purees

In May, in between lockdowns I was able to attend my first medieval event in about four years, and it has inspired me to finally post some of the medieval recipes I’ve been working on. When we camp at events in the fourteenth-century ‘village’ breakfast is always a problem. Evidence for breakfast is patchy during the medieval period.

Woman in medieval clothing stirring a pot over the fire, in a medieval encampment

We know that some people certainly ate in the mornings but with ‘dinner’ the main meal of the day eaten mid-morning it can be difficult to know if references to breaking the fast refer to a separate meal or simply the first time people ate during the day i.e. at dinnertime. The first reference to breakfast in English recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1463, when Sir John Howard recorded “exspensys in breffast” on a trip around Suffolk and Norfolk.[1] By 1478 the draft ordinance for the king’s household allowed for “a large breakfast” for the king, queen and anyone waiting upon them.[2]

 

Even for hard-core re-enactors, getting up at 5am to start cooking in order to serve the main meal of the day at 9 or 10am is a hard ask on a weekend. At public events, when one of the main goals is to show people medieval cooking techniques, it is also counter-intuitive to finish most of the cooking before the public have arrived on site. As a result, we normally eat our main meal later in the day, and our hungry peasants definitely require something to keep them going until then.

 

Then there is the issue of what foods to serve. I have searched high and low for breakfast in the late 14th and early 15th centuries but with limited success. The Franklin in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (written c. 1387-1400) loves a “sop in wyn” in the morning – this is bread soaked in wine, possibly sweetened and spiced. The edition of household accounts of Dame Alice de Bryene from 1412-1413 translated by Marian Dale lists breakfast as a separate meal every day[3]. The accounts for breakfast are not separated from the other meals, but daily lists of ingredients suggest it would have been made up of bread, fish (fresh and preserved), meat, and ale/wine.

 

Across the 14th and 15th centuries, the most commonly mentioned foods for breakfast include salt fish, bread, beer and cheese. Fish and beer might work for some people but it is a hard sell for modern tastebuds, and difficult to make work for the range of modern dietary requirements we have on site.

 

One of the ways we deal with this is to make 14th century recipes that are more familiar as breakfast to people today, even though they were not necessarily eaten as breakfast in the past. This can include things like tostees dorees (often interpreted as an early version of French toast), pancakes, gruel or porridge.

 

Pour faire Tostees dorees, prenez du pain blanc dur et le trenchiez par tostees quarrees et les rostir ung pou sur le grail; et avoir moyeulx d’oeufz batuz et les envelopez tres bien dedans iceulx moyeulx; et avoir de bon sain chault et les dorer dedans sur le feu tant qu’elles soient belles et bien dorees et puis les oster de dedans la paelle et mettez es platz, et du succre dessus.[4] – Le Viandier de Taillevant (from a 15th century version, but the original was written c. 1300)

 

To make golden toasts, take hard white bread and slice it into squares and toast it a bit on a grill, and have beaten egg yolks and coat the toasts well. And have good fat hot and cook them in it on the fire until they are beautiful and golden, and then take them out of the pan and put them on plates, with sugar on top.

 

All of these dishes can also be livened up a bit with accompaniments. I’ve been playing around with some different fruit dishes to make breakfasts more interesting and to give some variation. Below you can see medieval crespes (crispy pancakes) with the chardewardon.

 

pancakes with pear puree on a shallow plate with a spoon

The Recipes

 

I’ve picked two recipes for stewed fruit to play around with. The nice thing about these is that they are very easy, but also scalable and pretty flexible when it comes to the type of sweetener, thickener and spices.

 

The first recipe for chardewardon, comes from a mid-fifteenth-century cookbook but appears in a number of versions in different texts. I have made it as a kind of applesauce, but with pears, so it is still quite runny. Some of the other versions mention cooking it in a coffin (pastry crust) to make a kind of pie, or making it like chardequince which is commonly understood to be more like quince paste, so there are lots of different ways you could make this. I made this a little too sweet, so have reduced the amount of sugar and honey here but sweeten it to taste.

 

Chardewardon – Take Pere Wardonys, an sethe hem in Wyne or in fayre water; þan take an grynd in a morter, an drawe hem þorwe a straynoure wyth-owte ony lycoure, an put hem in a potte with Sugre and clarifiyd hony, an Canel y-now, an lete hem boyle; þan take it fro þe fyre, an let kele, an caste þer-to ȝolkys of Raw eyroun, tylle it be þikke; & caste þer-to pouder Gyngere y-now, an serue it in manere of Fysshe;*. [For Rys; see Douce MS. No. 53, and the end of this recipe. A. also reads fische.] an ȝif if it be in lente, lef þe ȝolkys of Eyroun, & lat þe remenaunt boyle so longe tylle it be þikke, as þow it had be temperyd wyth þe ȝolkys, in þe maner of charde quynce; an so serue hem in maner of Rys.[5]

 

Take warden pears, and boil them in wine or in fair water; then take and grind them in a mortar, and strain them through a sieve without any liquid, and put them in a pot with sugar and clarified honey and enough cinnamon, and let them boil. Then take it from the fire and let it cool, then add raw egg yolks, till it be thick, and cast thereto powdered ginger, and serve it in the manner of fish [this seems to be a mistake, because the recipe continues with how to make it during lent and instructs you to serve it in the manner of rice]. And if it be in Lent, leave out the egg yolks, and let the remaining boil so long that it it is thick, as though it had been tempered with the egg yolks, in the manner of chardequince, and so serve it in the manner of rice.

chardewardon (spiced pear puree) in a wooden bowl with a spoon.

For the second recipe, I chose a potage of prunes from Harley MS 5401 which is another fifteenth century manuscript with copies of fourteenth century recipes. Even though it is called potage of prunes, the instruction to rub/squeeze them well to wring out the juice makes it clear that we are dealing with plums and not prunes (dried plums) in the modern sense of the word. This came out beautifully, and had a lovely tartness to it in addition to the gorgeous colour. I will definitely be making this again.

 

Potage of Prunes. Recipe prunes & wesh þam clene & frote þem wele in a cop tyll þe juyse be wele wrong oute; þan do it in a pot & put þerto whyte grece & hony or sugure, & boyle it togyder, & þyk it with þe floure of rise or of wastylls. And when it is sothen dress it up in dyshys, & cast þeron powdyr of galingal, & serof it forth.[6]

 

Stewed Prunes. Take plums and wash them clean, and rub them well in a cup until the juice is well wrung out; then put it in a pot and put thereto white grease and honey or sugar, and boil it together, and thicken it with rice flour or breadcrumbs. And when it is softened put it into dishes, and cast thereon powdered galangal, and serve in forth.

bowl of stewed plums with a spoon

[1] “Breakfast, n.,” in OED Online (Oxford University Press), accessed June 28, 2021, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/22928.

[2] Alec Reginald Myers, The Household of Edward IV (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), 204.

[3] Vincent B. Redstone, ed., The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall, Suffolk : September 1412 to September 1413, with Appendices, trans. Marian Dale (Bungay: Paradigm, 1984), http://archive.org/details/householdbookofd0000unse.

[4] Thomas Gloning, “Taillevent, Viandier (Manuscrit du Vatican),” Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, August 20, 2000, https://www.uni-giessen.de/fbz/fb05/germanistik/absprache/sprachverwendung/gloning/tx/vi-vat.htm.

[5] Thomas Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books : Harleian MS. 279 (Ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (Ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N.T. Trubner & Co, 1888), 12, http://name.umdl.umich.edu/CookBk.

[6] Sam Wallace, “MS Harley 5401,” Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, September 4, 2011, https://www.uni-giessen.de/fbz/fb05/germanistik/absprache/sprachverwendung/gloning/harl5401/MS_Harley_5401_body_annotated.htm.

The Redactions

Chardewardon

1 pear

Enough white wine to simmer

1 tsp honey

1 tsp sugar

1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

1 egg yolk

1/4 tsp ground ginger, or to taste

 

Peel, core and chop the pear then simmer it in just enough white wine to cover it. When it is very soft, mash it in a mortar then push it through a sieve (or use a food mill). Put back in the saucepan with honey and sugar to taste (I would start with about 1 tsp of each and go from there), and ground cinnamon, bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool (you don’t want to scramble the egg), then whisk in the egg yolk. Return it to the heat and cook gently until it is as thick as applesauce, then stir in the ground ginger.

 

 

Stewed Plums

5 plums, ripe but still tart

A large knob of butter

1 tbsp honey (ish) (or sugar)

2 tsp riceflour (ish) (or breadcrumbs)

Ground galangal and/or cinnamon/cloves/ginger

 

Wash the plums, then cut them in half and remove the stones. Mash the plums as best you can, then put them with their juice into a pot and add the butter and honey. Boil it together until the plums are very soft and falling apart (continue mashing as you go). Take a little bit of the liquid and whisk it into the rice flour, then stir this mixture into the rest of the plums. Bring to the boil and allow to thicken slightly. Season to taste with the spices you are using.

 

 

 

 

 

14th Century Quick Pickled Eggs

Quick pickled cinnamon eggs, recipe from the 14th century

Ages ago I wrote about making pickled eggs for my cousin and I promised you another recipe. Well, it’s taken me nearly two years, but here it is. During my research the earliest English recipe I could find was from the 18th century, but I came across a much earlier recipe in Arabic. This recipe was from The Description of Familiar Foods, which was probably written in Cairo in the 14th century.

“Baid Mukhallal – Take boiled eggs and peel and sprinkle with a little ground salt and Chinese cinnamon [cassia] and dry coriander. Then arrange them in a glass jar and pour wine vinegar on them, and put it up.”[1]

What you notice, is that this souse or pickle (the vinegar solution) appears to be cold when it is put on the eggs. Most modern recipes call for the pickle to be hot, and it made me wonder how using a cold solution would affect the eggs, both from a taste perspective and for food safety.

SAFETY NOTE: The following is meant to be a discussion primarily about how this recipe might have functioned in the 14th century, and why it was possible to eat pickled eggs in the past in the absence of refrigeration. For modern home cooks, you should follow the most recent guidelines and procedures which are put out by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

In terms of texture, the evidence is mixed. One early study of pickled eggs suggested that using a boiling pickle would increase tenderness, but more recently Acosta et al. found that the manner of pickling made no noticeable difference to texture.[2] Overall, it seems that if cold pickling makes any difference to the toughness of the egg, it is probably quite small, but it would be interesting to try doing hot and cold brine versions of the same recipe to compare them.

The bigger question is, how does it affect food safety? The current guidelines recommend a hot pickling solution and say that pickled eggs should be refrigerated after bottling and only removed for serving (for a period of no more than 2 hours).[3] Obviously, refrigeration wasn’t an option in 14th century Egypt, so what does that mean for the people eating these eggs?

Whenever you read about food safety and home pickled eggs, you come across a reference to the one known case of botulism caused by home pickled eggs.[4] One case isn’t very many, in light of the estimated 2,600 deaths a year caused by foodborne illnesses in the USA alone, even if there are other unreported cases.[5] Still, in the interest of not poisoning our loved ones, I thought I’d take a closer look at what the science says.

With pickled eggs, there are two food safety issues to contend with. The first is botulism, but botulinum spores can’t survive in an environment with a pH of more than 4.6. The US food regulations say that you must be able to reduce the pH to 4.6 within 24 hours, otherwise the food should be refrigerated until the correct pH is reached.[6] The rate at which acidification occurs depends on the ratio of eggs to pickle, the ingredients of the pickling solution, the amount of acetic acid in the vinegar, and the pickling technique (hot fill/cold fill etc.).

Dripping 1

Acosta et al. found that with a brine concentration of acetic acid of 4.9% or 7.5% (normal table vinegar is 4-8%) they could get the total yolk pH to 4.6 or below in less than 24 hours with a cold fill, a hot fill, or a hot fill followed by a water bath treatment.[7] So far so good, except that a total yolk pH means that the yolk is made into a paste and tested to get a kind of average. None of these methods was able to produce a pH of less than 4.6 in the very heart of the yolk in less than 24 hours.[8]

So what does that mean? Well, to be safe you’re still better refrigerating your eggs, because a) it’s difficult for the home cook to manage and measure all the different factors and b)it hasn’t been proved safe for the yolk to take longer than 24 hours to reach acidification. But, for our 14th century Egyptians, it was probably reasonably safe because the brine was almost pure vinegar and the total yolk (note that this measure is endorsed by American food safety regulators[9]) would reach 4.6 even at room temperature. The biggest thing is not to pierce the yolk of the egg, which some people do in the hopes of increasing acid/flavour penetration of the egg, because it can inadvertently introduce botulism spores into the yolk.[10]

However, botulism is not the only thing we have to worry about. A whole host of other things can contaminate your eggs if you’re not careful, including salmonella, E coli and listeria. The easiest way for the home cook to avoid contamination is good hygiene: use sterilised jars, and wash your hands before peeling the eggs.

What’s interesting is that Sullivan et al. showed that the safety requirements for dealing with botulism (refrigeration of eggs) might actually prevent pathogen die-off, if your eggs do get contaminated. They say that “Pickled eggs should be held under refrigeration for the length of time needed to acidify them to ≤4.6, and then held at ambient temperatures to ensure pathogen inaction.”[11] This precaution isn’t reflected in current guidelines for home cooks, and it’s difficult to know from their study what the take away message should be, other than that we should flip the filled jars upside down now and then to make sure that the vinegar touches all parts of the jar. And for the medieval Egyptians? Well, this raises the interesting question of whether, by keeping the eggs at room temperature, they were actually helping to make pathogen die-off faster.

 

[1] Perry, “Kitab Wasf Al-At’ima Al-Mu’tada [The Description of Familiar Foods],” 397.

[2] Acosta et al., “Pickled Egg Production,” 791.

[3] Washington State University Extension, “Pickled Eggs”; Andress, “Pickled Eggs.”

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Foodborne Botulism From Eating Home-Pickled Eggs — Illinois, 1997.”

[5] Scallan et al., “Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States – Major Pathogens,” 10.

[6] U.S. Government Printing Office, “Title 9, Chap. II, Subchap. A, Part 381 – Poultry Products Inspection Regulations,” 9 CFR 381.300.

[7] Acosta et al., “Pickled Egg Production,” 794.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Government Printing Office, “Title 21, Chap. 1, Subchap. B, Part 114 – Acidified Foods.,” 21 CFR 114.90.

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Foodborne Botulism From Eating Home-Pickled Eggs — Illinois, 1997.”

[11] Sullivan et al., “Pickled Egg Production,” 1846.

Quick pickled cinnamon eggs, recipe from the 14th century

The Redaction

 

Given that there is so little detail in the recipe, it doesn’t seem worth giving a redaction. I followed the same basic steps as in any pickled egg recipe, I boiled and peeled the eggs, packed them into sterilised jars, added some cassia (you could use either ground cassia or add a stick which would look prettier) and some coriander seeds (it’s also possible that the recipe is calling for dried coriander leaves) and then covered them with white wine vinegar. The quantities will depend entirely on the size of your jars, how many eggs you are using and how much spice you want to add. Make sure that you invert the jars at the end, and then refrigerate them. Leave them for a few days to allow the flavours to develop before eating.

 

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Baid Mukhallal from Kitab Wasf Al-At’ima Al-Mu’tada [The Description of Familiar Foods]

The Date: 14th century

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 20 mins.

How successful was it?: Tasty, with a pleasant but not overpowering cinnamon flavour.

How accurate?: The biggest difficulty is knowing what amount of spice to use, because there really isn’t any indication. I also wasn’t entirely sure what type of coriander to use, and whether the spices would be ground or whole. I went with what I had to hand, which was ground cassia and whole coriander seeds, but I think that whole cassia would probably be prettier. The other big question is what kind of vinegar to use, and whether modern wine vinegar is similar to historical wine vinegar. It might also be interesting to try this recipe with red wine vinegar and see whether it colours the eggs like beetroot pickled eggs.

Open Jar 1

References

Acosta, Oscar, Xiaofan Gao, Elizabeth K. Sullivan, and Olga I. Padilla-Zakour. “Pickled Egg Production: Effect of Brine Acetic Acid Concentration and Packing Conditions on Acidification Rate.” Journal of Food Protection; Des Moines 77, no. 5 (May 2014): 788–95.

Andress, Elizabeth L. “Pickled Eggs.” National Center for Home Food Preservation, April 2014. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_eggs.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Foodborne Botulism From Eating Home-Pickled Eggs — Illinois, 1997.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4934a2.htm.

Perry, Charles. “Kitab Wasf Al-At’ima Al-Mu’tada [The Description of Familiar Foods].” In Medieval Arab Cookery, by Maxime Rodinson, A.J Arberry, and Charles Perry, 373–450. Totnes, U.K.: Prospect Books, 2001.

Scallan, Elaine, Robert M. Hoekstra, Frederick J. Angulo, Robert V. Tauxe, Marc-Alain Widdowson, Sharon L. Roy, Jeffrey L. Jones, and Patricia M. Griffin. “Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States – Major Pathogens.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 17, no. 1 (2011): 7–15.

Sullivan, Elizabeth K., David C. Manns, John J. Churey, Randy W. Worobo, and Olga I. Padilla-Zakour. “Pickled Egg Production: Inactivation Rate of Salmonella, Escherichia Coli O157:H7, Listeria Monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus Aureus during Acidification Step.” Journal of Food Protection; Des Moines 76, no. 11 (November 2013): 1846–53.

U.S. Government Printing Office. “Title 9, Chap. II, Subchap. A, Part 381 – Poultry Products Inspection Regulations.” In Code of Federal Regulations, 2011. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2016-title9-vol2/pdf/CFR-2016-title9-vol2-sec381-300.pdf.

———. “Title 21, Chap. 1, Subchap. B, Part 114 – Acidified Foods.” In Code of Federal Regulations, 2011. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2016-title21-vol2/pdf/CFR-2016-title21-vol2-sec114-90.pdf.

Washington State University Extension. “Pickled Eggs,” 2002. http://extension.wsu.edu/foodsafety/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2017/03/EB1104-Pickled-Eggs.pdf.

 

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